What’s a poor science type to do?

April 30th, 2007

Posted by: admin

I saw in Point Carbon’s daily update today the following headline:


So you already know what this is about. The subline on Point Carbon’s article is

Environmental groups today called on the world’s scientists not to water down a long-awaited report on mitigating climate change when it is published this Friday

But I wonder if the advocacy groups pushing this kind of message have really thought through the consequences of such advocacy. The message is unequivocal: make the science report say what we want it to say. Oh, and do it by Friday. Thanks! But what if the IPCC WGIII authors were to respond to Greenpeace et al.’s pressure?

Changing the report at the last minute in either direction as a result of interest group pressure would mean an instant loss of credibility for what should be the single most credible document on climate change. Advocacy groups must realize that they rely on the IPCC’s credibility when they talk about climate change. Without a credible third-party document to point to, advocacy groups are left to preach to the choir. With an international consensus document behind them they can stand on its results to push their message to a larger audience.

Although it doesn’t exactly happen this way in practice, scientists have cachet because they have the reputation of responding to scientific results, not political pressure. Respond to Greenpeace et al.’s pressure now would mean tanking their credibility (the news would most definitely get out), taking Greenpeace’s with it. So why are the let’s do something about climate change now! advocates trying to undercut the credibility of their strongest pillar?

My guess is that advocacy groups know this already. They don’t expect the IPCC to change anything based on their advocacy, but are simply looking for a quick route to broad media coverage (which hasn’t happened yet … Point Carbon is the only site I found the news on). But I suspect there are smarter ways to garner media attention than by publicly asking a group of ostensibly independent scientists to change a major report to their liking.

11 Responses to “What’s a poor science type to do?”

  1. James Annan Says:

    Actually, I think that the environmental groups are asking the scientists to not allow the summary report (for which they’ve already written what they consider to be a full and fair final version) to be watered down in the final line-by-line acceptance by politicians.

    Oh look, they even use the phrase “water down”.

    I don’t see how this supports your POV. The scientists have already written the report, it will only be changed at the behest of the politicians.

    (I’m assuming the WGIII process is basically the same as WGI, where this “watered down” phrasing was frequently used in this exact same context…)

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  3. Harry Haymuss Says:

    The “Environmentalists’” call is to counterbalance the more objective viewpoint.

    Let’s call the IPCC report by the scientists what it is – a call for more funding. No problem, no funding. Too many unanswered questions, to be sure – but Schneider’s message of alarmism is still the prime directive.

    The Environmentalists, on the other hand, are in the pocket of the Carbon Traders (e.g. Al Gore). They just don’t know it. They say “the science is settled – and it’s horrific”. Well, it’s not settled. An example – a one percent increase in precipitation would completely offset ghg forcing.

    So, the 3rd world is stuck between a rock and a hard place – without inexpensive energy, they will have a much harder time raising their standard of living to above (on average) poverty level.

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  5. William Connolley Says:

    I thought you were a policy type, anyway?

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  7. Ben Says:

    Harry Haymuss wrote:
    > Let’s call the IPCC report by the scientists
    > what it is – a call for more funding.

    If the goal were ever more funding, the report would be emphasizing the uncertainity of the science. Instead, each IPCC report is more and more certain of the science. So your claim makes no logical sense.

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  9. kevin v Says:

    WC – I don’t know what I am. I’m a PhD in oceanography/climatology still doing some climatology work but living in a policy shop doing some policy work. i’m all confused.

    James – maybe, but I read the message as directed at scientists. and “don’t water down the report” for me is synonymous with “play up or strengthen certain aspects of the report.” But as I said, I don’t think this was directed at IPCC WGIII at all, just directed as the media, which makes it doubly subversive.

    HH – yea, all of us academics are getting RICH RICH RICH FABULOUSLY RICH!!! on our grants. right. half my cohort in grad school went to Wall Street to actually make some money. the ones that stay in academia stay DESPITE the grant money, not because of it. let’s lay that one to bed. maybe you can sell it to Oliver Stone, though.

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  11. William Connolley Says:

    I can empathise with your last comment :-)

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  13. Sam Says:

    It just seems rather silly to me. Water down something that’s planned on being published on Friday? How could they do that? One would think it’s already finished. So there must be another reason to even ask it right now. Seems like there wouldn’t be too many reasons other than mainly for publicity, but that’s just conjecture on my part.

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  15. jfleck Says:

    From a journalist’s perspective, one of the things that has happened with WGII and WGIII, that did not happen as much with WGI, is the pre-release attention. It appears that a lot of folks with strong institutional interest timed their WGI news events for the actual release. With WGII and WGIII, there have been quite a few advance events/comments/news releases in apparent attempts to seize and define the story before the release.

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  17. hank Says:

    I wonder if the governments pushing this kind of message have
    really thought through the consequences of such advocacy? The
    message is unequivocal: make the science report say what we want
    it to say. Oh, and do it by Friday. Thanks! But what if the IPCC
    WGIII authors were to respond to Saudi Arabia et al.’s pressure?

    Oh, wait, they did!

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  19. Tim Lambert Says:

    I think the message is unequivocal, but it’s unequivocally the opposite of what you say it is. It is: DON’T CHANGE THE REPORT.

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  21. JOE PAGE Says:

    I don’t wish to insult anyone, (who isn’t a liar, dictator or plain stupid), but as an expert on Manmade Global Warming and Climate Change, (ie someone who watches incredulously at so many fine intelligent people run themselves ragged over tiny details), I have a profound suspicion of the people who appear to control what the public are told via the media.
    I am not concerned about how the world’s climate/weather changes.
    I am not concerned about trying to affect it, slow it or even stop it. I do believe it has been Man’s fantasy for centuries to be able to control the weather without much hope of success. Now we are to believe our activities do control the weather, and that we have been doing it all along.
    No, I am concerned about how Mankind will cope with whatever comes along.
    I am concerned about diverting too much energy, resources and time into one form of “solution” only for Mankind to find out when it’s too late that the path to that “solution” has been wrong all the time.
    We don’t know if we can stop hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, droughts etc. But we do know how to build sea/river defences, store and distribute water more efficiently and effectively and many other things which would help/prepare us to “ride the storm”.
    The current type of advice given seems to be aimed at individuals’ way of life. “Change your life or the world will change to your detriment”. To even the most inept this smacks of certain people aspiring to control the public rather than help it.
    I’m all for conserving precious/finite resources. Re-using materials and products. But wasn’t this something to do with rag’n’bone men years ago? And isn’t the human race renowned for hoarding and re-using things, with a reluctance to throw anything away “that might come in useful”?
    I like little animals and flowers too.
    But this world is the human race’s world because we have developed into the dominant species. All the little animals, and some started way before us, all had their chance – but we took that chance and good job too! We do at least try to help other species. I don’t see elephants helping Polar bears, or magpies helping dolphins.
    And because this world is ours to use and make use of, much like we own a car and use it, sometimes you have to leave a little rubber on the road by way of acceptable wear and tear.
    I’m very proud to be human and that we are in charge of life on Earth. Whatever problem comes along we should be able to solve it. OK we don’t always get it right but we have enough people trying to get it right.
    Many, many wonderful inventions, developments in concepts, products, procedures are rarely given the light of day to the public. But when it comes to alarmism the soothsayers seem to have a constant link to the public’s ear.
    And instead of this alarmist persecution of the public – as if it’s their fault all the time – I would like us all to remember some of the spirit of the human race that has been forgotten in the words of an old song from the musical High Society, (forgive me if I don’t get it right word for word, but the meaning is there ok).
    Have you heard, it’s in the stars. Next Tuesday we collide with Mars. Well, did you ever?
    What a swell party this is!
    Sometimes we have to cope with whatever we can’t do a thing about.